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HomeNewsArchivesHaitian Orphanage in Dire Need, Relief Volunteers Say

Haitian Orphanage in Dire Need, Relief Volunteers Say

USVI Haitian Relief Organizer Carmen Partridge (left) with returning volunteers Dr. Kathleen Hunt, developmental anthropologist Catherine Colby, EMT firefighter George Codding, EMT Lisle Evelyn, nurse Alexandria Bradley and logistics manager Carol Beckowitz.Although none of the 42 children at the Haiti Sacred Heart Orphanage outside Port-au-Prince were critically injured in the quake, all have suffered psychological damage and are in dire need of attention.
That’s according to pediatrician Kathleen Hunt and nurse and developmental anthropologist Catherine Colby, who recently returned from their Haiti volunteer mission, which included a visit to the orphanage, run almost single-handedly by 84-year-old Sister Marie Veronique.
Both volunteers came from Chattanooga, Tenn., and traveled to Haiti with the USVI Haitian Relief mission, organized by St. Thomas resident Carmen Partridge. They returned this week, along with four other volunteers: George Codding, an EMT firefighter from Boulder, Colo.; nurse Alexandria Bradley, EMT Lisle Evelyn, and Carol Beckowitz, Sen. Craig Barshinger’s chief of staff–all three St. Thomians.
A couple of the volunteers filled more than one role in the demanding Haitian environment. Recruited by a St. Croix friend, Codding put his knowledge of French to work translating Creole patios as "best he could." Meanwhile Beckowitz became logistics manager, while Schneider Regional Medical Center nurse Bradley was in demand from the moment she stepped on Haitian ground. "They’re desperate for nurses," she said. "I’d definitely go back."
Speaking of the orphanage, Colby said, "Sister Veronique does the best she can with no money to hire staff. Some local women do come in, but the babies don’t get the affection they need."
In a debriefing session with Partridge after returning Monday, the women, both mothers of young families, and still visibly touched by the experience, spoke of the children.
"They are in such need of basic care," Hunt said. "They’re in need of stimulation, human contact. There was one baby who still has light in his eyes," she said, "but he was covered with scabies, and no one wanted to pick him up. They’ve been so neglected. They are all in need of worming."
The women said the children, mostly infants, must sleep in one small room, 20 beds for 42 children, with two to three to a crib, with bent bars, which don’t protect the infants.
Sister Veronique sleeps in a chair.
The women came back the next day after the initial contact, bringing what toys they could find, along with food, and a third volunteer who proved more important than toys or food.
As it turned out, EMT Evelyn, a big, kindly-looking young man, was better than any toy. "The older kids were so happy to see us," Evelyn said. "They rushed us. For the most part they wanted to be touched and held. We talked with them, blew up balloons. We didn’t have any toys. They gathered around us, so happy to have attention."
While the volunteers de-wormed the children and removed lice, they left lamenting the things they couldn’t fix. "The room the babies live in has no windows, no sunlight," Evelyn said. "They don’t have enough staff to take them outside in the daytime," said Evelyn.
"When the few helpers do feed the babies," said Colby, "they stick a spoon between the bars of the cribs, rather than taking them in their arms to feed."
In their second visit on a Sunday, the volunteers had an abrupt and welcome change of pace.
They were invited to receive mass in the orphanage’s small chapel, which was left intact. "We were so surprised," said Colby. "It was lovely."
Lisle said a group at Schneider Regional Medical Center, where he works, are trying organize an effort to adopt/support the orphanage by regularly sending supplies and food. "It’s a collective effort, not just EMTs," Lisle said. "I would love to go back as long as they continue."
The orphanage visit was a break from Lisle’s daily routine. "We worked from 6:30 a.m. until midnight," he said, "doing dressing wound care, treating those who were sick and anemic. I’d estimate we saw 200 a day."
Hunt and Colby also had a busy schedule, aside from the two days at the orphanage. Hunt worked in a tent city where they must have treated 500 for wounds, including amputees, children and adults.
"The saddest thing," Colby said, "was to see these children with no parent, waiting in line all by themselves, with nowhere to go after they’re treated."
Likely speaking for all the volunteers, Colby said of the experience: "It pulls on your heartstrings, but you can’t indulge those feelings, or you wouldn’t be able to go on. You have to focus to get the job done."
The volunteers reported the Haitian community is in desperate need of tents, noting the rainy season is coming. They said tents are for sale now on the streets of Port-au-Prince, but for the exorbitant price of $600.
Partridge stressed the mission is still in need of funds, not only for tents. "Our focus now," she said, "is for funds to help purchase food and water for the orphanages."
The mission’s website includes updates on current relief efforts and donation information.

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